This recital begins and ends with two big Russian sonatas,
and between them come three brief pieces to form a convincing
programmatic arc. Chronologically one should start with the
Rachmaninov sonata but it works best at the apex of the disc,
in view of its girth and also its expressive amplitude. So we
actually start with the sonata Miaskovsky wrote for Rostropovich
in the late 1940s. This splendid example of the composer’s eloquence
is made the more so by virtue of its being very late Miaskovsky.
This has tempted some players toward distension, with the ensemble
team of Marina Tarasova and Alexander Polezhaev, for instance,
taking it to the very limit by stretching the finale to seven
and a half minutes in length. That is simply not necessary,
as numerous duos have shown. The Warner-Nuzova duo navigates
a steadier course through the sonata, warm, lyrical, very expressive,
with a sure sense of ensemble. They make one major miscalculation
in my view, however, which is to take a too-slow tempo for the
slow movement. They do sustain it by means of a lusciously warm
cantabile, but rather like the first two movements of Barber’s
Violin Concerto, which are too often undifferentiated in tempo
and mood, the current duo courts the same danger here. True,
I think they mean to point up the more assertive moments in
this movement as an apt foil, but my concern remains. Rostropovich
– the work’s dedicatee - and Dedyukhin (in 1967) have the best
solution, and even though they are faster than any other team
on record, they don’t sound rushed [now on a vast 26 CD and
2 DVD box set; EMI 2 17597 2].
Rachmaninoff’s sonata is better shaped. In outline, though not necessarily detail, it reminds me of one of my most prized recordings of the work, by Knushevitsky and Oborin back in ’62. (it’s now included in the Brilliant box devoted to the cellist – 8924). Technical challenges are met with splendid aplomb, and the players strike a fine balance between sinew and elegantly shaped rubato. Their use of colour and texture are highly effective, and the warmth which they brought to Miaskovsky is equally palpable here, not least in the glorious slow movement. This is a sensitively traversed and very well argued performance.
The three central pieces offer an intriguing slant on Russianness. We have Piatigorsky’s transcription of a Scriabin piano Etude, which is presented with compelling intimacy, and also the adagio from Prokofiev’s ballet Cinderella. Bisecting them is Schnittke’s Musica Nostalgica – a droll piece of minor key baroque procedure, ingeniously spiced in the composer’s inimitable style.
The engineering has been excellently judged. A fine recital, then, with the players very properly having their own view about things.